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Bayer, BASF win new trial on $60 million damage award in U.S. weedkiller lawsuit

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FILE PHOTO: Logo of Bayer AG is pictured at the annual results news conference of the German drugmaker in Leverkusen
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By Brendan Pierson

(Reuters) -Bayer AG and BASF have won a new trial on $60 million in punitive damages they were ordered to pay a Missouri peach farmer who said dicamba, a herbicide they produced, drifted onto his orchard and harmed his crops.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that a federal jury was wrongly told to assess punitive damages for Bayer and BASF together, rather than separately. It said a new trial was needed to determine punitive damages for each company.

BASF, which had argued on appeal that the joint award was unfair because the case focused on the conduct of Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, said in a statement that it was pleased with the ruling.

"We are confident that BASF's reprehensible conduct and sizable net worth will result in an even larger punitive damages award upon retrial," Tracey George, a lawyer for farmer Bill Bader, said in an email.

Bayer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The order does not affect the jury's verdict that the companies are responsible, and leaves in place $15 million in non-punitive damages.

The jury originally awarded $250 million in punitive damages, but a federal judge later slashed the punitive portion to $60 million.

Bader's lawsuit, one of more than 100 similar lawsuits over dicamba, went to trial in early 2020. Bayer in June 2020 announced it would pay up to $400 million to settle the remaining dicamba lawsuits.

Bader, who operates Missouri's largest peach orchard, said dicamba drifted onto his property from nearby soybean and cotton farms.

Monsanto began selling dicamba-tolerant soybean and cotton seeds it developed in 2015 and 2016, respectively, leading to an explosion of dicamba use, Bader and other farmers have said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency imposed restrictions on the use of dicamba in November 2018.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by David Gregorio and Grant McCool)